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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54122. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054122. Epub 2013 Jan 21.

Protein kinase C regulates human pluripotent stem cell self-renewal.

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Laboratory of Stem Cell Cultures, Department of Disease Bioresources Research, National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan.



The self-renewal of human pluripotent stem (hPS) cells including embryonic stem and induced pluripotent stem cells have been reported to be supported by various signal pathways. Among them, fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2) appears indispensable to maintain self-renewal of hPS cells. However, downstream signaling of FGF-2 has not yet been clearly understood in hPS cells.


In this study, we screened a kinase inhibitor library using a high-throughput alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity-based assay in a minimal growth factor-defined medium to understand FGF-2-related molecular mechanisms regulating self-renewal of hPS cells. We found that in the presence of FGF-2, an inhibitor of protein kinase C (PKC), GF109203X (GFX), increased ALP activity. GFX inhibited FGF-2-induced phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β), suggesting that FGF-2 induced PKC and then PKC inhibited the activity of GSK-3β. Addition of activin A increased phosphorylation of GSK-3β and extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1/2 (ERK-1/2) synergistically with FGF-2 whereas activin A alone did not. GFX negated differentiation of hPS cells induced by the PKC activator, phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate whereas Gö6976, a selective inhibitor of PKCα, β, and γ isoforms could not counteract the effect of PMA. Intriguingly, functional gene analysis by RNA interference revealed that the phosphorylation of GSK-3β was reduced by siRNA of PKCδ, PKCε, and ζ, the phosphorylation of ERK-1/2 was reduced by siRNA of PKCε and ζ, and the phosphorylation of AKT was reduced by PKCε in hPS cells.


Our study suggested complicated cross-talk in hPS cells that FGF-2 induced the phosphorylation of phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K)/AKT, mitogen-activated protein kinase/ERK-1/2 kinase (MEK), PKC/ERK-1/2 kinase, and PKC/GSK-3β. Addition of GFX with a MEK inhibitor, U0126, in the presence of FGF-2 and activin A provided a long-term stable undifferentiated state of hPS cells even though hPS cells were dissociated into single cells for passage. This study untangles the cross-talk between molecular mechanisms regulating self-renewal and differentiation of hPS cells.

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